Daily Press (Sunday)

Jockey’s Ridge


appearance­s much-appreciate­d by its fans — is the only visible on-site remnant of the former Jockey’s Ridge Mini Golf in Nags Head.

The course operated just south of Jockey’s Ridge State Park, and since the state purchased it in 1987, it has been included in park land.

“I thought it was a great teaching tool, which it turned out, it has been,” said George Barnes, who was the first ranger in charge and then first superinten­dent of Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

He helped remove the rest of the exposed course constructi­on but advocated to keep the castle, which was added in 1978.

Barnes fielded many questions about the castle during his over three decades at the park.

“It just got people’s curiosity up, and then they learned more about the movement of sand, and what can create sand moving, and how much it can move in a day or two… or however long,” Barnes said. “I get a big smile every time I go by, ’cause it’s still there.”

Joy Greenwood, the Jockey’s Ridge State Park superinten­dent, said she played golf there as a child when her family vacationed to the Outer Banks.

“It’s probably one of the most-photograph­ed things out here,” she said.

The wind effect

The approximat­ely 426-acre Jockey’s Ridge State Park includes the largest living sand dune system in the eastern United States.

The Outer Banks experience­s its strongest winds out of the north, during the winter, and that has always caused the sand dunes to move south, according to Greenwood.

“The sand dunes themselves on average have moved between 1 and 6 feet to the south historical­ly, through the last 50 years that we have data, but it sort of picked up recently,” Greenwood said.

In the last five years, the dunes have moved “more like 10 feet” annually to the south, she said.

Many factors causing this likely include constructi­on throughout the island and the depletion of sand from the forested, eastern part of the park by U.S. 158, which is thought to be the location from which the wind has usually moved sand to re-cover the castle, according to Greenwood.

“So that sand pile has pretty much been depleted now,” Greenwood said. “There’s no sand moving in

In 2003, a pair of workers erect a sand fence around a concrete castle that was built for a miniature golf course in 1978. behind it, and that’s why the sand castle has become so exposed now.”

While anything can happen, “I think it’s going to stay fairly uncovered now, for the foreseeabl­e future,” Greenwood predicted.

As the dunes have shifted, she said the park has purchased “quite a few” pieces of property that were south of the park, on the north side of West Soundside Road, including three in the past six years.

“It’s a lot easier to defend the sand on the road,” she said. The last largescale sand removal project in 2018 moved sand from the park’s southeaste­rn corner to its northweste­rn corner.

Mini golf in ‘a cool location’

Miki Kreger Meekins of Virginia Beach owned and operated the mini golf with husband Alton Meekins of Rodanthe.

The couple opened Meekins Realty, and “the golf course was her pet project—he got it for her,” Katie Kidd, a Virginia Beach resident, said of her grandparen­ts.

Her grandmothe­r “was a go-getter…very smart” and just “ran with it,” Kidd recalled.

The attraction, which had two 18-hole-courses, opened in 1975 or ’76, when Kidd was 6 or 7.

Kidd spent summers on the Outer Banks, helping her family at the mini golf course, then, starting at 16, officially working there.

“It was just a neat thing to do on the Outer Banks,” she said of the

course. “There wasn’t a whole lot to do” at the time.

Her grandmothe­r had a shipwright build the main building— modeled after a real ship—that featured genuine portholes and had a working drawbridge as the front door, which opened or closed by turning a ship’s wheel.

Patrons got their clubs and balls at the front part of the ship. In the back was a living area for the family members who ran the course, featuring a kitchen, bunk beds and “the whole nine yards,” Kidd said.

“In later years, my dad built a deck inside,” she added. “It had video games and slot machines.”

Large sculptures, formed with concrete over wire, decorated the course. The castle, which stood about 8 feet tall at its highest turret, was the only piece created to allow people to walk in it, Kidd said.

Solid concrete pieces included a dragon, a cobra and a large seashell. There was also an octopus, for which Kidd’s dad built the frame and a Currituck man fiberglass­ed, she said.

“It was a really cool location, you wound down through the dune and back up,” Kidd recalled. “It was just a big pile of sand, including the parking lot.”

The parking lot was “a wide strip of asphalt” by U.S. 158, which was then a two-lane road, and the rest of the patrons just parked in the sand, she said. But the same sand that made the location unique also presented challenges­t. The northern 18-hole course didn’t keep its original location for long.

“The dune overtook the first course, so they just let the dune have it,” Kidd said.

Her grandparen­ts kept the second course where it was and created the first course’s replacemen­t to the south.

The castle featured a waterfall pouring into “a big pond at the bottom” that was concrete decorated with clam shells, but after the first year, her grandmothe­r stopped putting water in it, Kidd said. “Sand just bogged up the pump.”

As of Dec. 12, that concrete pond is exposed at the castle’s base.

Every year before Memorial Day — the official launch of the Outer Banks tourist season — Kidd said her family would head to Nags Head to prepare the course, which largely involved removing the sand that had piled up over the winter.

“We had blowers,” she said. “My brother and cousin would go blow all the sand off the course.”

The last couple years, a local builder said he wanted the sand, she noted. They got free sand removal, and he got free sand.

“I’m sure he used it for constructi­on,” Kidd said, recalling a picture in the newspaper of him and his backhoe in front of an approximat­ely 20-foot-tall dune that covered the first course.

The sale

Her grandmothe­r was not interested in selling the property, but local groups “thought we were depleting the state park.” Local pressure built from the nonprofit

Friends of Jockey’s Ridge State Park, “a couple of prominent business owners” and the Town of Nags Head, which rezoned the property from a commercial to residentia­l use, Kidd said. A few years later, the state said it would take the property if she didn’t sell.

“She didn’t feel like fighting the State of North Carolina in court, so she just let it go,” Kidd said. The summer season of 1987 was the last in operation.

According to the deed dated Sept. 15, 1987, Marian K. Meekins sold the property to the State of North Carolina for $427,500. The property was three acres, according to Greenwood.

Another putt-putt course in Nags Head near Dowdy Park acquired the solid concrete structures, the ship landed at the Ark Church and the octopus wound up outside a souvenir shell and driftwood shop along the causeway.

Despite some vandalism, the castle still stands.

As superinten­dent, Barnes said he arrived at work one day and noticed the castle was shorter. He said it appeared “some kids had gone over there with a sledgehamm­er” and knocked off more than 2 feet so they could remove the tallest turret.

“But they figured out that it weighed about 500 or 600 pounds,” Barnes said. They pushed it down to a house that was there at the time, “but they just left it there because they couldn’t pick it up.”

No one ever claimed responsibi­lity, according to Barnes.

Other people have broken pieces off the castle, “which is unfortunat­e,” Greenwood said.

At one point, the park put up sand fencing around the castle. But people climbed over it, and that became an additional hazard, Greenwood said.

Now, “Keep Out” signs posted on the castle and park rangers’ advice to “be respectful of the artifact; don’t let your children climb on it” are the castle’s only means of protection.

Greenwood’s advice is to treat it like flowers or any other natural resource in the park: Enjoy it but leave it alone for others to also enjoy. There is exposed rebar near the castle, so people should approach cautiously, Greenwood said.

Every positive interactio­n people post about the castle is a trip down memory lane for Kidd.

“The castle’s become famous,” Kidd said. “It’s nice to read the stories that people have to say about the golf course because it was very special to all of us. It was a tradition for a lot of families…every year, they’d come and play.”

 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States